Larimer is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA. Once a thriving community of over 15,000 residents, Larimer is now one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, home to only about 2,000 people who live amidst empty lots and vacant houses.
In 2014, Larimer won a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant from the US Department of Housing and Development. In accordance with the 2010 Larimer Vision Plan, this money is being used to create new community green spaces and 350 new units of mixed-income, environmentally-friendly housing.
In the face of urban blight, Larimer has a strong history of community activism: locals that stood up against developers, held government accountable, advocated for their neighbors, and laid out a clear vision for the Larimer they hope to live in.
Today, at the beginning of 2017, development is underway and many community stakeholders are working tirelessly to make Larimer thrive again. This project aims to document the diverse ways people are fighting for social justice in Larimer.
As with many reinvestment projects targeting poor urban communities, development in Larimer threatens to displace or marginalize current residents. Larimer borders East Liberty, another resurgent neighborhood that many view as a front line of gentrification. Larimer’s southern border is marked by Bakery Square, a chic open-air mall, office, and luxury living complex renting to companies including Google, LA Fitness, and west elm.
As market values rise in Larimer, will its current residents be forced out? How can the community, developers, and the city work together to protect current residents even while improving the community? How does a neighborhood change so that everyone benefits?
Lincoln Elementary School is a Pre K - 5th grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Academy in the center of Larimer. In 2016, the students there organized and held a march for peace in their neighborhood.
Video by Ryan Loew for PublicSource
Report from local CBS station KDKA
We sat down with Principal Dr. Virginia Hill and Therapist Nicolette Louzar to talk about the Peace March and some of the challenges facing students at Lincoln.
The Larimer Community Garden was once a collection of vacant lots along Larimer Avenue. Thanks to a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Larimer Green Team, a group of residents committed to "making the environment a priority in Larimer," the garden stands as in important symbol for saving urban green space. We sat down with Green Team Chair Carolyn Peeks to talk about the value of community gardening, and what it takes to defend green space in a neighborhood like Larimer.
We also talked with Andrew Butcher, CEO of GTECH, an organization working to remediate vacant land in Pittsburgh, about the importance of green space in Larimer. Be sure to check out our full interviews at GTECH and Grow Pittsburgh, organizations who worked closely with the Green Team to create and maintain the garden.
The Kingsley Association, a large and vibrant community center, provides "quality programming for individuals, families and youth, carrying on the long tradition of community based human service and social reform." We spoke with Felicia Lane Savage, an instructor at Kingsley who also grew up in the Larimer area.
GTECH (Growth Through Energy and Community Health) Strategies and Grow Pittsburgh, both located on Hamilton Ave in Larimer, do good work across the city to help Pittsburghers make greener communities. We sat down with Grow Pittsburgh Executive Director Julie Pezzino and GTECH CEO Andrew Butcher to hear about their organizations’ missions, about the challenges of environmental justice, and the history of social change in Larimer.
The main Bakery Square building was a Nabisco factory from 1918 - 1998. It continued operating as a bakery under another company until 2004, and in 2006 the City of Pittburgh declared the building blighted. Walnut Capital, a local leasing company, redeveloped the space as a retail and office complex in 2010.
Current retail tenants include SpringHill Suites by Marriott, TechShop, Anthropologie, Free People, Panera, Coffee Tree Roasters, and L.A. Fitness. Google leases more than half the office space, over 100,000 square feet.
Bakery Square development later expanded across Penn Ave to include two LEED-certified green apartment buildings, one each in 2014 and 2016, respectively. These buildings, called "Bakery Living", will soon be joined by "Bakery Square 2.0", another complex of office and residential space. Bakery Square 2.0 will stand in place of the demolished Reizenstein high school.
While Bakery Square has brought significant reinvestment (and a Google office) to Pittsburgh's East End, it has been criticized as an example of gentrification. The shops and high-end apartments cater to an affluent consumer base, and the continued expansion of Bakery Square properties threaten to put pressure on the local housing market.
What is gentrification? It's a complex and shifting issue, one central to revitalizing poor communities across America. We put the question to each of our Larimer stakeholders.
How can community residents resist gentrification? Larimer's residents have worked hard to be a part of the development planning process, and many are hopeful that their participation will yield equitable results.
We spoke with one longtime Larimer community advocate, Betty Lane, about her experiences defending her neighbors and holding her government representatives accountable.
We also spoke about gentrification with Dr. Ralph Proctor, Professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). Find more from Dr. Proctor in our section on Larimer History.
Zone 5 covers a large and diverse swath of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Larimer. We sat down with Commander Jason Lando, who has been lauded for his approach to community outreach, to talk about changes and challenges in the area, and how the police can approach social change.
Larimer was home to a number of immigrant groups, most notably Italian Americans, and was Pittsburgh's Little Italy up until the 1960s. We sat down with historian Dr. Ralph Proctor for a look back at the neighborhood (and more broadly, the city).
We also spoke with Dr. Proctor about the value of history and education as tools in service of social justice, as well as his personal experiences in working to create social change.
East Liberty, the neighborhood directly west of Larimer, is a relevant case study for redevelopment in the area. East Liberty was a lively business district from the late 19th century through the 1950s. In the 1960s, city-led urban renewal projects that cut the neighborhood off and erected housing projects prompted a hard decline. The amount of businesses in East Liberty declined from almost 600 in 1959 to only 100 in 1979.
Revitalization efforts began in earnest in the 1980s with the bank-led formation of ELDI (East Liberty Development Inc.), and have been criticized throughout for ignoring the existing African American population of East Liberty.
Between 1996 and 2006, ELDI and the City of Pittsburgh worked to attract new 'big box' retailers to East Liberty and to remove the 20-story housing projects that surrounded the neighborhood. First, ELDI and the City used tax increment financing to lure two national retailers to the neighborhood: Home Depot and Whole Foods. Both of these stores thrived, and their success convinced small local merchants and other national retailers to invest in the neighborhood. Second, after a complex and time-consuming set of transactions, two of the three housing projects that visually barricaded the neighborhood were demolished in 2005, and the third was demolished in May 2009.
Because these efforts involved resettling the largely African-American population of East Liberty’s housing projects and attracting several high-end retailers, ELDI and the City have been criticized for acting as agents of Gentrification. Some of these concerns have been assuaged by new mixed-income residential developments which have begun to replace the demolished housing projects, as the new developments provide arguably nicer and safer accommodations for some of the projects’ former residents.
Several of our interviewees shared their perspectives on East Liberty in relation to development in Larimer.